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Last Updated: Friday, 4 May 2007, 13:39 GMT 14:39 UK
Putin's next generation make their mark
By James Rodgers
BBC News, Moscow

Nashi members during an anti-Estonian protest in Moscow on 2 May 2007
Nashi members accuse Estonia of state fascism
When the Kremlin's not happy, Nashi will make sure people know.

Nashi describe themselves as a "democratic, anti-fascist, youth movement".

The name is the Russian word for "ours". It has the ring of "our lads", or "our team".

This week, they have been using their own tactics to show their support for Russia in its row with Estonia.

They have picketed the Estonian embassy in Moscow.

They broke into a hall in the centre of Moscow where the Estonian ambassador was about to give a news conference, and clashed with the ambassador's guards.

'Blockade'

There were even reports of their activists trying to stop Russian trucks from delivering goods to Estonia.

Nashi members in front of a huge poster of President Putin in Moscow in March 2007
The youth movement is proud of Mr Putin's achievements

The "blockade" of the embassy, as Nashi described it, was lifted only when the ambassador went on leave.

Nashi claimed it as a victory.

The progress of the action was gleefully catalogued on their website, under a picture of the Soviet war memorial in Tallinn, whose removal sparked Moscow's dispute with its neighbour.

The site has a link for those who want to know more about "Estonian state fascism".

Nashi have a history of tailing diplomats they do not approve of.

The British ambassador to Moscow, Anthony Brenton, was among foreign observers at a meeting organised by "Another Russia" last summer. The group is a broad coalition opposed to President Vladimir Putin's administration.

For months afterwards, Nashi picketed the British embassy. They appeared at public engagements where Mr Brenton was due to speak and tried to disrupt them.

Payment claims

Most of their members are in their teens or 20s.

"When I was their age, I'd demonstrate for anything, too," said one observer of their protest outside the British embassy said with an ironic smile, "just not for money."

Nashi members deny they are paid to turn out - but it is an allegation which is persistently made against them.

To some, their well-organised, well-attended, rallies suggest the presence of the Kremlin's helping hand.

One name which comes up in discussions like that is Vladislav Surkov.

ESTONIA-RUSSIA TIES
Memorial to Soviet soldiers in Tallinn, Estonia
1918: Estonia gained independence from Russia
1940: Forcibly incorporated into Soviet Union
1941-1944: Occupied by Nazi Germany
1944: Soviets return as Nazis retreat
1991: Gains independence as Soviet Union collapses
1994: Last Russian forces leave Estonia
Now: Ethnic Russians make up quarter of Estonia's 1.3m people

Mr Surkov is the deputy head of the Kremlin administration. He is not a publicity seeker.

At an extremely rare news conference last year, he spoke of a "boom" in youth movements in Russia.

"We have to try not to lead this too much," he said, in an apparent reference to the communist youth movements of the Soviet era, then added: "But of course we contact and support those who support us."

Nashi are certainly among the Kremlin's supporters.

Their "manifesto", as outlined on their website, overflows with patriotic sentiment, and praise for Mr Putin.

Mr Putin has previously honoured these most fervent of his admirers with personal visits to their summer camps.

Nashi are proud of what Mr Putin has achieved during his time in office.

Aside from their street protests and rallies, they have an education programme.

They want to create new leaders for the 21st century - a generation which will build on the successes of its first decade.

Election season

They have no time for anyone who does not share their vision.

Another Russia is roundly condemned. Nashi dismiss it as an "unnatural union of liberals and fascists".

The relative standing of these two movements was clearly illustrated last month.

Another Russia's demonstration was broken up by riot police.

On the same day, the Young Guard - the youth wing of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party - and Nashi both held much larger, officially sanctioned rallies.

Election season is approaching in Russia: a parliamentary poll in December will be followed by a presidential one in the spring.

This is not a country on the verge of an orange or rose revolution.

Mr Putin enjoys widespread, genuine, public support. The electorate is thankful for the economic stability he has presided over.

Russia has a new sense of national pride.

Anyone who questions or challenges the value of that may get a visit from Nashi.


SEE ALSO
The Kremlin's new commissars
12 Jul 06 |  Newsnight
'Our People' stand up for Putin
28 Apr 05 |  Europe
Country profile: Estonia
30 Apr 07 |  Country profiles
In pictures: Estonia clashes
27 Apr 07 |  In Pictures

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